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For Teens in Florida Sexual Assault Case, a Stigma for Life? Expungement and Sealing Records

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By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on June 04, 2009 5:26 PM

Prosecutors in Florida have decided to charge four teenage boys as adults in a case involving horrifying allegations of sexual assault against another teenage boy. Noteably, CNN's story named all four boys, specifically because they were charged as adults. As a result, those boys may have to live with the stigma of the allegations for all their lives, regardless of what the eventual result in the case may be. This is probably even moreso in the Internet age where search engines put information on someone's name just a few keystrokes away.

Although to a lesser degree than the teens in that highly publicized case, people with convictions on their record nevertheless face a potentially lifelong "branding" of being convicted criminals. This consequence of the legal system is entirely intentional, of course, but it does present significant challenges with respect to former convicts' and arrestees' career options, hiring decisions about them, and perhaps even where one lives. However, there is a process in many jurisdictions called expungement by which such records could possibly be legally erased.

Eligibility

The availability of expungement, and the extent to which it will affect a person's record (including their ability to answer questions about their record) will vary by jurisdiction. However, if expungement and sealing records in your jurisdiction are available, a person may or may not be eligible depending on a variety of factors, such as:

  • How "bad" was the crime one seeks to expunge? (a sex offense probably won't be going anywhere, for example)
  • How long has it been since the arrest/conviction? The more distant in time, the better.
  • Whether someone has a long "rap sheet" with similar and/or serious offenses.

Also some places might have specific rules regarding the age at which someone was arrested/convicted, which could play into the availability of expungement or the sealing of records.

The Process

Where expungement is available, people have to fill out an application to get it done because it won't happen on its own (i.e. after a certain amount of time). Of course the paperwork has to be for the jurisdiction of the arrest or conviction. Once the applicable paperwork is filled out, it should be submitted to the proper criminal court, where it will be reviewed by a judge.

Sometimes the procedures for expungement can get pretty complicated, and it might be advisable to consult with an experienced local attorney for guidance. Lastly, it should be noted that even if a conviction gets expunged, it can still affect future conviction(s) and sentence(s) faced by the same individual.

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